Trial starts tomorrow so, as you can imagine, I’ve had no time to think about much of anything else this weekend. Let me quickly throw out a topic I’m interesting in hearing about from you. Really, two topics, I guess.
First, should America use capital punishment? My own view is that humans are capable of doing things for which they deserve to die and any society that does not punish such behavior appropriately is not a society confident enough in its own values.
Second, if we are to have capital punishment in this country, how can we make it work effectively? Right now, the system is clearly broken. It takes 20-30 years and millions of dollars to execute even someone who clearly deserves it. What is the point of a system that hands out the death penalty, but is so insecure about carrying it out that most death penalty criminals will die of old age before they die at the hands of the state?
I understand perfectly well that death penalty opponents have done everything in their power to make actually executing someone as expensive as possible, so they can then argue it’s not worth the expense (a tactic carried out with stunning effectiveness by nuclear power opponents!). But is there a way to create a system with appropriate safeguards that still achieves justice relatively quickly and inexpensively? My own suggestion is that a death penalty defendant be given, as a matter of right, a trial, a first appeal to the court of appeal, a second appeal to the state supreme court (states like Wyoming which don’t have Courts of Appeal could have a special appellate panel of senior lower court judges to serve in place of the Court of Appeal), one request for clemency to the governor, and that’s it. The trial should be brought within a year of arrest. The first appeal should be decided within one year of trial. The second appeal should be decided within six months of the decision in the first appeal. The clemency decision should be made within one month after the decision in the second appeal. The execution should take place within one week after clemency is denied.
Under this plan, the defendant has four chances to escape the penalty — one before a jury, two before panels of judges, and one before an elected politician. That’s enough. Essentially, instead of dragging our feet forever in death penalty cases we should take them seriously, giving ample opportunity to avoid death to those who do not deserve it, but acting surely and (relatively) swiftly, against those who do. Instead of taking twenty or thirty years, we take two or three.
What do you think? Should we have a death penalty at all and, if so, how would you implement it?